I really do commend Mark Lester for bringing genre fans a film that still holds up to this day. While it’s not at all a masterpiece or perfection, “Firestarter” almost thirty years later is still a really entertaining bit of genre fare that explores the tribulations of a young girl with a natural ability, and the men in her life. Lester’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel doesn’t just make young Charlie’s powers her own superhuman ability, but in a way implements it to signify her emotions, particularly love and passion. Because deep down “Firestarter” is a love triangle between small Charlie, her father, and her new friend John. At first John is insistent on murdering Charlie, and once he manages to gain her trust and befriend her, his friendship turns in to passion and love.
Notice in the moment during a conversation where he makes a point of touching her leg, and then the final moment where bursting in to flames he confesses his love for Charlie. “Firestarter” really is all about the love between a father and a daughter. But with Charlie’s life relegated to running around, she’s built an affection for her father that’s beyond a dad and daughter. In one scene she jealously confronts her mother (Heather Locklear in a small but pivotal role), and holding little regard for her safety lights her in fire only to calm when her father scolds her as if she were injuring him personally. This is when she pinpoints her love for her mother only in an adversarial sense, and nothing too maternal.
Father Andy is a man constantly on the brink of pure evil, as Charlie is, and he’s a man who is capable of holding Charlie in control through his Svengali super abilities, and with his power of suggestion he can influence her in to doing his bidding. There’s the constant implication that he could make her do literally anything he wanted. “Firestarter” works on the same levels of “The Fury” to where our main character is a primarily docile if fickle persona whose own good intentions and petulance sour their behavior that often affects the people around them. Charlie isn’t a particularly wholesome or completely likable child, but she is someone who has the capability to be one. Which is why her father refuses to give up on her. And why the government program is insistent on seizing her.
She’s easily corruptible because she seems to understand her grasp of her abilities and this gives her a sense of entitlement with social situations. This is why she feels she needs to burn the feet of a man at a bus station abusing his pregnant wife, and why she refuses to comply with her kidnappers orders. “Firestarter” is a visually stunning and still competent supernatural thriller that ends in a brutally disturbing violent crescendo signifying Charlie’s coming of age, and her blossoming in to what could either be a work of good, or force of evil. One of the major caveats of “Firestarter” is the vastly over the top performances all around, particularly from David Keith who is blustery and melodramatic in about every single piece of dialogue he delivers on-screen.
“Firestarter” would be easier to watch were it not for the cartoonish performances that adds an inadvertent camp value to the attempted melodrama. Even George C. Scott who plays the maniacal John bursts with goofy anger and emotional fervor that can induce some reluctant giggles on occasion. Everyone here tries to convey the severity of the situation so drastically that they all take a collective chunk of the scenery. In spite of the over the top performances, “Firestarter” is still an exciting and dazzling science fiction thriller steeped in the supernatural and filled with overtones that will provoke conversations from observant audiences. While no means a masterpiece, it’s a Stephen King film worthy of viewing once or twice.